Sunday, August 9, 2009

Epic Rock

Have you noticed how many of the finest rock songs ever written are more than just straight-up rock?

I've put together a little playlist with some of the best examples of this phenomenon I could think of, and I'm happy to explain exactly what I mean -- track by track:

Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody
  • It's opera. It's folk rock. It's heavy metal. It's so much more. Not only that, but Freddie Mercury and the gang deliver great examples of every style they touch here. Bohemian Rhapsody is the archetype of what I mean by "epic rock."
Derek and the Dominos - Layla
  • Eric Clapton's hardcore guitar duel with Duane Allman segues into a sentimental piano ballad, capped with a chirping slide guitar. One of the greatest love songs, and Clapton did get the girl -- at least for a while.
Heart - Crazy On You
  • The acoustic guitar intro is a classic on its own, and then the real song begins. The Wilson sisters move with ease through hard and soft, raucous and slow, desperate and passionate rock.
Wings - Band On the Run
  • This song starts out slow and traditional, but then goes through two snapping breaks and becomes the kind of anthem you'll scream at the top of your lungs after about six beers.
Metallica - One
  • Now we're really rocking. No band has mastered the art of epic rock like Metallica, where nearly every song is a study in contrasts. This anti-war missive is more nuanced than most, though.
Bruce Springsteen - Thunder Road
  • Thunder Road doesn't do sharp style breaks, but still manages to somehow transform from a gentle ballad to a heartbreaking stadium rocker. You could build a career on trying to copy this song over and over.
Lynyrd Skynyrd - Free Bird
  • Like Band On the Run, Free Bird starts slow but takes a drastic turn into blistering rock. I can't help but whistling along with those legendary guitar riffs -- no matter where I am or what I'm doing.
Fleetwood Mac - The Chain
  • Not too many rock standards started with a bass riff, but that's what Fleetwood Mac did here. Take one John McVie bass groove, add one unfinished Stevie Nicks lament over endless love unrequited, and wrap the whole package in the layered backing of an all-star band for the ages. This is what you get.
Pink Floyd - Time
  • Parts of this song aren't even music. That's not a bad thing.
The Who - Baba O'Riley
  • Lead-heavy guitar rock. Irish folk fiddle. And in the background of this glorious style contrast, there's the incessant melodic tapping of early electronica. What's not to love?
Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells
  • Most people recognize the eerie intro from The Exorcist. Beyond that, Oldfield plays everything from Bossa Nova to Russian folk on a variety of guitars, glockenspiel, pipe organ, and the eponymous tubular bells. It's in two pieces because you had to flip the LP over at some point, or else I imagine Oldfield would have simply filled an entire CD with one song. You want epic? You want Tubular Bells.

I probably missed your favorite epic rock anthem. Tell me off in the comments box below.


  1. A good list, I must say. But when I went about adding the list to a playlist named "Bylund's Epic Rock" in Spotify, I noticed the gaping holes present in their catalogue: Pink Floyd is not on Spotify, Metallica can only be found in covers by others, and I couldn't find Wings and Derek and the Dominos either. But now I'm one happy camper listening to a watered-down version of your epic list :)

    1. Seven years later, things have changed. These days, Spotify includes all of these masterpieces, and I've updated the playlist on this page accordingly :)